Friday, August 2, 2013

A Tube Across the Golden Gate

The history of a city can be imagined in many ways: as an upward trajectory of successful collective endeavor, as a simmering cauldron of bitter class conflict, or as a landfill piled high with abandoned projects, doomed utopias, and broken dreams. Tossed into the dustbin of history (and sometimes deposited in the CHS archives), the record of these failures tells the story of a different city, the city that might have been. Some of these “unbuilt” landscapes are poignant, others are disturbing, still others are simply bizarre, but they all remind us that history—and the view from our window—could have been something very different.

Architect M.G. Bugbee’s 1921 notebook, A tube across the Golden Gate, tells one of these stories, in graceful sketches accompanied by handwritten technical notes. As the need for a transportation link between San Francisco and Marin County became more obvious, Bugbee proposed the construction of an underwater concrete tube reinforced by steel cables, as pictured below:

 A tube across the Golden Gate, 1921, by M.G. Bugbee, MS 251, California Historical Society, MS 251.002.

When we think Golden Gate, the brilliant image of our internationally beloved bridge sweeps into view, emerging from and dominating the natural landscape. It’s hard to imagine the city detached from its man-made, fog-swept icon. Technical questions aside, Bugbee’s plan might suggest an alternate vision of urban planning for the Bay Area, one that is more modest, less triumphalist, and, perhaps, for better or for worse, more twenty-first century.

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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